Carolyn Parent is the CEO of Conveyer, an AI platform that helps businesses unlock the value in their unstructured data to drive operational efficiencies, improve customer support, and elevate customer experiences. Recently, she served as Entrepreneur in Residence at HearstLab. A recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and tech veteran with 25+ years of CEO experience at growth-oriented software companies, Parent has ushered in six profitable exits. Her previous roles include: CEO of LiveSafe, a risk intelligence company acquired by Vector Solutions; Cofounder of Gravy Analytics, a location-based analytics company recognized as a leader in mobility data; and GM of Deltek, a project management software company that successfully IPO’d.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Carolyn shared her insights on the evolution of tech industry over the last decade, her professional journey, favorite quote, productivity tip, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
How has the tech industry evolved over the last decade and where is it heading now?
The tech industry has gone through so many changes over the past ten years, but the biggest I believe is the speed and cost required to deliver innovative new solutions. The ability to develop and launch a product can happen in days, weeks and months as opposed to years. OpenSource, Managed Cloud Service Providers, remote workforce, turnkey hosted business applications and access to global engineering talent have created an innovation environment that is unprecedented in our lifetime. The recent explosion in AI with the accessibility of ChatGPT has democratized access to faster and new innovations. The fact that we have computers generating code 24/7 compared to exclusively a human workforce is ushering in a new era of speed of solution creation. It wasn’t that long ago that you needed to rent an office, hire a local tech talent team, buy hardware to run your software development, set up HR and implement your own business applications to run your company. Today, post-COVID, in a cloud environment, with AI, the speed and acceleration with which we can create new technology is a completely different world than ten years ago. It is an exciting time. AI is where the future is headed.
Carolyn, are there any meaningful events in your backstory that helped shape your career path?
My grandfather had a fifth-grade education and went to work on the eastern shore of Maryland in the fields to support his family. He started selling cars as a young man and eventually owned his own dealership. My father started out as a pharmaceutical salesman and became a CEO, and my brother started in sales and is now a CEO of a tech company. We grew up around the dinner table talking about deals, competition, strategy, and the importance of knowing and supporting your customer. When my dad was a Sales Manager, he would often have his reps join us for dinner when they were in town. Sales and customers were in our daily life for as long as I can remember. This influenced me when I started my career and took my first job out of college. Sales wasn’t something to consider as a career choice, it was in our DNA. I was lucky, plain, and simple, to be born to parents who supported me and gave me the confidence to believe I could grow a rewarding career and have a family. Both my parents worked my entire life and through their example I saw what was possible. I was never intimidated by CEOs or senior executives because I knew my father, like everyone else, put his pants on one leg at a time. That made it easier for me to speak up and engage with senior leaders. I was lucky with my family, and I was smart in the life partner I chose with my husband. We have been married for 30 years and just like my parents, he has been unwaveringly supportive in all I have done in my career. Who you are born into is just luck but who you choose to build your life with makes all the difference in the world in how you achieve your professional success.
Can you please tell us about your roles and responsibilities as the President and CEO at Conveyer?
My role as a CEO is to communicate a clear vision and execution plan to our team, collaborate with everyone that makes our success possible, lead with conviction, and care deeply about our employees and customers. Working with our investors to align capital to grow our business, supporting the employees by empowering them to execute on a clear plan, and adapting to the changes in the market to ensure our customers are successful are where I spend my time and focus.
You recently served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at HearstLab. Brief us about this platform and your role in it.
Prior to taking my role at Conveyer, I was an EIR at HearstLab. HearstLab is an investment fund that focuses exclusively on female founded startups. My previous company LiveSafe was their first investment and now they have backed over sixty female led companies. After we had our exit at LiveSafe to a PE backed company, they invited me to join their team to support the female CEOs of these startups. I love HearstLab because they have a unique position in not just investing in female founded companies but truly supporting every aspect of their business to help them grow and succeed. They have a network of over 100 women across all the Hearst businesses that support the CEOs in their companies with their experience in finance, marketing, engineering, sales, and customer support. It’s an amazing group unlike anything I have seen in the investment community. My role as an EIR was to work with the CEOs on their strategy, go to market sales execution and overall leadership development and support. It was incredible.
What do you believe are the defining qualities of an effective leader?
Empathy, courage, passion, and the ability to communicate and adapt. I was raised with the values that you never ask anyone to do something you don’t do yourself, the harder you work the luckier you get, and it’s important to surround yourself with people who want to achieve something together. No one ever wins alone; it takes a team effort to accomplish anything worth having. Love the journey as much as the destination, because as soon as you reach one goal, there is another one to set, so your joy needs to come from working with great people to build and accomplish a great company together.
Tell us a story of something that happened to you that taught you an important lesson.
I was a Divisional VP at a branch office of a huge company and the SVP planned a day/night golf dinner event for management (which were all men) and I wasn’t invited even those they were my peers. I called my father devastated, angry, and hurt. The bonding experience and collaboration at this event was important and I wasn’t included even though 9 of the ten people in the group were invited. My father told me to change my thinking about this and look at it as an opportunity. “So, all of the local leadership is gone for the day? Everyone else is at work? So that means you are by default in charge as the senior member in the office?” I thought, “Well, yes, that was true, but what did it matter as it was just one day.” He asked me how I could advance the company and team while I was leader for a day. I ran some meetings in the morning to gather feedback on what wasn’t working with supporting some of our customers. I came up with a plan, reached out to corporate for some help, and launched a new Major Accounts Customer Support Initiative for getting more focus on large accounts to help them and open up greater opportunities for upsells. The EVP at corporate called down in the afternoon to ask about it and it got me on his radar in a good way. The next day I shared with my boss what had happened, and he thought it was great. I learned that when you first see something as a negative, it could be viewed completely differently and turned into an opportunity. I was promoted not long after, as that experience showcased to my SVP and EVP my leadership potential. Everything is an opportunity if you have the right mindset, no matter how challenging.
What is your favorite quote?
“Run a Good Race.” I think it embodies the fact that you owe it to yourself and your team to do your best and if you are doing that, then be satisfied, regardless of outcome. All we can all do is try our best.
What does success mean to you?
For work it is helping people achieve goals and stretch and grow and accomplish things they didn’t think were possible. Personal success is to have my friends and family happy, healthy, supported, challenged, and feeling appreciated. Ensuring people know how I feel about them and how much I care is a measure of success for me.
What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Clear your inbox daily. I had a mentor who taught me the value of not repeating tasks (reading, scanning the same emails in your inbox). There are tools that automate tagging and filing of your inbox, and with so many sources of inbound communications (email, text, social) managing that process can give you hours back in the day. My Sunday night top priority list-making helps me sleep better before the Monday morning work rush as well.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Continuing to work with amazing people, solving hard challenges in the market, and delivering innovation that continues to evolve and hopefully improve the way business and people operate. Enjoying my eastern shore farm with my husband, traveling to Egypt and Asia, and supporting female tech leaders in growth of their businesses.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Every person you meet will have a different opinion of what you should or shouldn’t do with your company – believe and trust in yourself. Surround yourself with people who truly care about your success and support you in both good times and in times of failure. Do not let what has happened in the past cloud your thinking about what is possible for the future. Learn from your failures but do not let them define or limit you. Make time to take care for yourself physically and mentally and be very smart about who you choose to build your life with as a partner, as it will have a profound impact on how much you can achieve in your career. Have fun and enjoy the journey and the amazing people you meet along the way.